Diwali Oil Lanterns

Yesterday, as part of our study of Ancient India, we had a small Diwali celebration. We cleaned the house, cooked palak paneer and chicken tika masala for supper and made oil lanterns. The lanterns were easy and though this tutorial will be scantily papered with photographs, you can see that the end results was cute and, knock on wood, nothing exploded!

Use small jars with lids for the lanterns. Narrow jars hold less lantern fuel, which is a bonus, as the fuel comes in the smallest containers imaginable.
Gather your jars, hemp cord for wicking, lantern oil (can be bought from Michael’s or WalMart or your local, mom-and-pop hardware store), a hammer and either a long, narrow nail or small, thin screwdriver (for making holes in the lids).
The picnic table is the ideal place for most of this work if you don’t care if you make dents in the surface. Really, that is the important part: that you do this somewhere you can make dents in the surface. The ground will work in a pinch.
Place the jar lids, top down, on your work surface.
Using your hammer and screwdriver or nail, put a hole in the center of the lid by putting the point of your pointy implement in the center of the lid and hitting it sharply with your hammer. It is important that your holes are only marginally smaller than your hemp cording/wicking. If the holes are a lot larger, the wick will slide back into the jar. Not a good idea.
Pour lamp oil into your jars, filling the jars about 1/2 way. Cut your hemp cord so that you have about 1.5 inches more than the height of your jars. Ours were various sizes.
Put the cord up through the holes in the lids and press them into the sharp metal that’s going to be at the edge, on top. Be careful of your fingers and don’t get cut! Then feed the bottom of the wick into your jar/s and screw on the caps.
Let the jars sit for a little while, 15 minutes is good with the hemp. It is quite absorbent.
Then, light them! Voila! Cheap and easy. Just like you like it.

Categories: 5th grade, crafting, family fun, festivals, Fire, homeschool, social studies, Waldorf | 1 Comment

5th Grade Ramblings

Soon enough we will begin 5th grade. This year I jumped in and ordered the Christopherous 5th grade package–the very first time I have used a complete curriculum for any of our kids. I am excited! It has arrived, in a box much smaller than one might expect for a full school year of information. There was a lot in that little box, though, and I’m digging through it, planning, reading, getting more and more excited about the things we will be doing.

What sort of things? Geometry, botany, Gilgamesh, Ancient civilizations including China, Egypt and Greece, decimals, fractions.

For the past couple of years I’ve been struggling mightily with organization and lesson planning, with pulling off the lessons each day because my planning approach hasn’t been as thorough as it might have been. Martina has managed to do just fine and made a typically excellent showing on her required, standardized test, so I’m not deeply worried but…I could do better. This year I will, thanks to Donna Simmons who has done much of my planning and putting together of texts for me.

Now is the time to fill in the tiny details, lay things out on a calendar in a format that I can understand and schedule in a way that will work for us. This year we will forego morning extracurriculars and only do our livestock care and school work. Afternoons can house music, dance, riding lessons, etc. This is the mantra for the year: Mornings are sacred.

As we get deeper and deeper into the grades, it is clear that we must have sacred school time. Time set aside specifically for learning. This doesn’t mean forced learning, just that we have a window that is always open at a set time for main lessons, a time that is sacred space for things to do with learning. This is what works for us.

What are your plans for this school year? How many children do you teach at home?

Categories: 5th grade, homeschool, Waldorf | 2 Comments

The Best We Can

Yesterday I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting another Waldorf mommy. My girls and I have a table set up at Norfolk’s Fair Trade Festival and are selling our handicrafts. This young mama and I connected over some needle-felted dolls and gnomes on my table. Once we figured out that we were both Waldorf moms our conversation found its way to the pressures and performance anxieties that often plague us and the online groups with their Perfection Mavens, which if taken to heart, can make these anxieties even worse.

Apparently I’ve reached either the age of I Don’t Care or the age of being the Giver of Unwanted Advice. Hopefully I wasn’t obnoxious but I really do believe that we must set our goals and live by them. By our own goals and standards, not by those dictated by someone who has read someone else’s words and is filtering them for us.

Most children who are involved with this educational approach go to Waldorf schools. Then they are picked up from school by one of two parents who work full-time and go home to a typical American home. They eat out, watch TV, have tons of toys. Certainly some parents who pay tuition at Waldorf schools make the effort to have a gentler, less media-centered home but probably not all. In fact I suspect that it’s probably not most of them.

So if you’re homeschooling your kids and using a Waldorf approach here is what I think: Do your best and forgive yourself when you don’t get it all just right. Not one of us does and most of our kids come out just fine. Love and intention go a long damned way. So does self-forgiveness. If you are tired or stressed or sick and you let your kid watch cartoons for 12 hours straight one day then pat yourself on the back. You needed the break and your kid will be just fine. The final product that most parents are hoping for: intelligent, caring, capable adult children, is never going to be dependent on whether or not you had one bad day.

Forget the naysayers and guilt mongers and go for it. If we do the best we can things are going to turn out okay.


Categories: homeschool, Waldorf | Leave a comment

Why Waldorf Matters (and a little about why it’s not as easy as you think.)

Waldorf education has a reputation for being easy and for not offering much, if any, hard core academic learning. This opinion is based on the fact that Steiner promoted the idea that a child should be taught to read only after having attained the age of 7 years, or more specifically after the child has lived for 7 springs. ┬áThe change of the eye teeth is another indicator of reading readiness. The idea being that children must be developmentally ready to read and that early reading, early academic pressure of any type, will cause physical problems to arise. Somehow people interpret this ‘better late than early’ approach to academics to mean that academics are never taught. Not true.

Yes, Steiner was a spiritual man. Mystical even. And if you’re a skeptic then this is probably a bit hard for you to swallow. I get that. He firmly taught that what happens with our brain affects our physical body.

As to the academics, once the child begins reading there is a lot of hard and focused work that goes on. Children, for example, learn the 4 processes all at the same time not spread out over the course of years as in what have become our more traditional schooling methods. By the end of 3rd grade all of the multiplication tables should be memorized (up to 12) and the child has begun long division.

Perhaps it is the art that puts people off, makes them believe that this can’t be *real* learning? Surely there are those who believe that if you can draw a beautiful picture and write a paragraph on the topic you’re studying, there’s some flaw.

For 4th grade we have a long list of things to accomplish. Zoology, Native Americans (history, sociology, art, myth), grammar, memorization of various poems, letter writing, the tenses, local geography and history, form drawing, arithmetic to include patterns and codes, fractions, abundant and deficient numbers, and ratios, and Norse Mythology. We are studying Beowulf in addition to the Norse Myths which we covered in the Spring for personal reasons but we are reviewing the myths.

There are also subjects that are ongoing for the entire year like foreign language. For us, this year, that is Spanish. We have a tutor and an online program for that.

Swerving a little from the strictly Waldorf, we also read. A lot. Living books about Vikings have been our focus for the first semester of this year. My 4th grader also reads on her own and by assignment from the great variety of age-appropriate books that have won Newberry Honors and are traditional for children her age. These books are simply something I believe she must read in order for her to be culturally literate. Then there’s 4H, hippology, piano, ukelele and our lives for further study.

Does all of that sound like educational neglect to you? Certainly, it doesn’t to me. It’s easy to think we are doing so much more than the neighbors to educate our children but do we really have any idea what the neighbors are doing? Probably not. Maybe the neighbor kids are really good at building model airplanes and will someday design real aircraft. That’s a pretty cool thought. Over here the kid knows a few things that her friends probably don’t: always close the gate; watch the horses; the difference between salt bush and aster; how to castrate a lamb; how to bury a beloved pet and live through the pain. She can also multiply, divide and read Harry Potter. The most important things for me as her parent are that she is kind, empathetic, physically healthy and incredibly self-aware.

Would things be different if I had let her read at 4? Would she be less happy, less likely to twirl around and around in her dress? Less healthy? I don’t know and there is no real way *to* know. What I do know is this: Waldorf is not simple or easy but is deep and thorough and by the time we’re finished with high school the child will have been through physics and will be able to polish a 5 paragraph essay with the best of them. Hopefully she will also be centered, thoughtful and happy to have her dress bell out around her as she dances.

*We do not follow a strictly prescribed diet of pure Waldorf theology. We incorporate other educational philosophies into our homeschool. We do use Steiners educational philosophy as the base of our studies.

Categories: 4th grade, homeschool, Waldorf | Leave a comment

and Then There Was School Stuff

I’ve been MIA for a while, particularly from this blog. In fact, I was thinking I might be finished with blogging. It’s something you have to do because you enjoy it, at least that’s why I do it. It’s not about fame and fortune but about sharing what we’re up to in our homeschool and sometimes, our family life and I don’t care about becoming famous. What I do care about is recording a few things for my kids to look back on and hopefully sharing some useful tidbit here and there for those of you who are also parenting and/or swimming along in the homeschooling currents with us. Maybe I’m not quite done after all.

This year Martina (and yes, I called her Minerva for a while thanks to a few creepers but I just can’t do it anymore) will be in 4th grade. We are moving away from a Waldorf focus, though not completely. What’s working for us right now is doing a lot of reading aloud in the mornings, music after lunch, then math and science, then hand work while we listen to audiobooks. Our days are fuller than they were and that’s part of advancing through the grades. I try not to answer the telephone until we are finished and often ignore my needy husband when he shows up in the midst of read-aloud time. We really do need to stay on-task this year.

In short, I’m feeling the pressure! Martina does well on the annual standardized tests required by state law each year and I want her to have that back-pat each summer. Regardless of my lack of enthusiasm for hoop-jumping, it is what it is: validation.

What are we reading aloud? So far our topics to cover are these: Vikings; the Middle Ages; English; Math; Science; Handwork; History; Nature Study; Foreign Language; Poetry; Local Geography; Zoology; Norse Mythology. Sounds like a lot, eh? But I’m not finished! We have a co-op where I teach and the Martian attends classes. I will be teaching Beowulf for Middle Grades and Norse Mythology for little people. My child will be in: Beowulf!; Girl Scouts; Celtic Choir and; Creative Gaming. Then there are the extra-curriculars! Piano; Ukelele; Recorder; dance; horseback riding; 4H.

Whew! It sounds like an awful lot and I think parents with school kids have a gigantic load what with school, homework and then soccer and PTA? Why do I think that? Oh yeah, I did it for a long time…yes, Kindy through a UNC degree for my eldest. I can’t see that either way is easier, except in specific ways that are so different they don’t even merit addressing. Parenting and schooling a child are work and no matter how you it, it’s hard and rewarding and wonderful.

Links for specific tomes are in the sidebar, listed by Grade Level and Subject.

Categories: 4H, 4th grade, animals, livestock, hand writing, homeschool, language arts, math, Norse Myths, ObX, pony, social studies, Waldorf | 2 Comments

Norse Mythology I

We have begun our study of Norse Myths even though we’re in the 3rd grade because we will be traveling in the Baltic Sea come early summer and I think that having this connection will make Minerva’s understanding of the place deeper. We are using two books: D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths and In the Days of Giants by Abbie Farwell Brown.

We began our studies by exploring the World Tree which Minerva drew in her MLB.

The next story was of Ysir and the yellow cow. Minerva reads the story in D’Aulaires and then I read the version from In the Days of Giants. The two books don’t always correspond perfectly but we also have The Children of Odin and another book about Norse Gods on hand for research or back up. She reads her story on Monday and we let it sit for a few days. She retells the story later in the week and on Friday I read to her. Then she draws and writes in her MLB.

Here are my chalkboard drawing and rhyme:

The MLB (I don’t think Iphoto turns the pic back around! She actually doesn’t write backwards, just in case it looks that way.)

The ice giant, Ymir, and the cow were challenging for both of us to draw but we tried and did a reasonably decent job of it, I think.

Categories: 3rd Grade, homeschool, Norse Myths, Waldorf | Leave a comment

Thunder and the Lightning Rod

This story is from Main Lesson dot com’s ‘The Story Book of Science‘ by Jean Henri Fabre, chapter name: Thunder and the Lightning Rod.

Class began with my being faced by a large group of adorable and ernest young faces and wiggly little bodies. Once everyone had arrived, we gathered for circle time and sang Ring Around a Rosie. As we fell to the ground I asked the children to stay (not knowing until Leah taught me that there is a 2nd verse where we’re supposed to get back up again!). The children all sat in a semi-circle on the floor and we did a little community building exercise that will be repeated each week: I introduce myself by name and then we all answer a weekly question. This week’s was, “Tell me something that makes you special.” I enjoy doing this because often the children don’t all know each other or anything about the others, by the end of the semester they will.

At the end of the introductions I stood up, saying a rhyme called ‘Come a-runnin’ and we all moved to the table. We briefly discussed the story for the week and thunderstorms and electricity. Elsa and Sadie both knew a lot about the topic and told us about positive and negative charges. Then I handed out balloons, everyone got a little crazy rubbing balloons on shirts and holding them over their hair or sticking them onto their bodies or the wall.

Eventually I asked the children to place the balloons in a tub and come back to the table where each chose a Main Lesson Book (MLB) and I wrote their name on the front. Normally the children will do copy work in their MLBs but since it was week one and I thought we might be pressed for time, we just glued a handout in and then everyone settled down to draw a thunderstorm.

The ability of these little people to focus on their artwork was impressive. Every single one of them set to the task and drew a storm. I even had to hurry a couple of them along so that we could finish in time!

We did our closing circle a few minutes early. The kids gathered once more in a semi circle on the floor and we acted out a lightning storm complete with flashing lights, claps of thunder and the soft (or loud) sounds of rain falling and wind blowing.

Then we went outside and everyone bopped their balloon around for a few minutes before I called them together for a balloon stomp. All of the balloons exploded on the first try except for Sadie’s. I had to hold it down for her and exert a little force before it would submit =)

What a great bunch of children. I’m looking forward to next week and to teaching them about the water cycle. Our story is located here: Why the Sheep Ran Away.

Categories: animals, livestock, circle time, Class information, homeschool, Waldorf, Weekly Summary | 1 Comment

Arabian Nights, Week 2

Maybe I missed something but I thought the Arabian Night block from Earthschooling was going to last us a month and it only lasted a week. Darn it! I love the format of the stories in our 3rd grade curriculum. Maybe we were supposed to focus on one story per week, which is entirely possible but either way, I know what works for Minerva (this is our new ‘internet name’) and doing a new story each day fits our style much better.

Last week we finished 3 stories, so we had one left from our Earthschooling book. I told the story of The Fisherman and then we drew the vase the genie came out of for her MLB. I crayon the picture while she watches and then she does her picture, editing as she sees fit. Generally she will change a few colors or move things around in order to exercise her creative license, which is fine by me. I’m amazed at how much nicer her drawings are this year than last, when we really started learning how to use our crayons for MLB drawings.

Open Sesame!

Today she outdid me for the first time ever. Her drawing is beautiful. They generally are but today hers was much better than mine. She is learning to go slowly, to take her time and look at what she is creating while she’s still in process. I see an amazing unfolding of this child as she grows and is formed by this beautiful approach to education.

Categories: 3rd Grade, Crayoning, language arts, Waldorf | Leave a comment

Arabian Nights, Week 1

Our Arabian Nights scene

This was our first week of school and I was very excited about the fun things we would get to do. First off, following the Earthschooling 3rd grade guide, we are studying The 1,001 Arabian Nights. We do our Arabian Nights block after lunch each school day. We spend quite a bit of time in the mornings on math, and we finish our deep work after language arts with social studies, in this case the story of Sheherezade and Shahriar and Dinarzade.

Martina is enthralled with these stories and I make them fun and somewhat easy for her, focusing on the story and the art, more than writing or researching harems or ancient India.

I preread once or twice then tell her the story as we cuddle up on the sun porch sofa. She is completely in line with Shahriar–no way anything is happening to Sheherizade before the next story!

Thus far, we’ve done days 1-4 and I am including a few of our MLB pics below. I tell the story, then we go to the table and I draw the picture from the story while Martina watches. It is then her turn to put the crayon drawing into her MLB. Now, I have to say that we do have some BRAND NEW Lyra Ferby pencils, so you will probably also notice a pencil drawing or two. I’m not dogmatic. If she wants to use her pencils that’s fine. I am more comfortable with the forgiving nature of crayons.

The Genie and the dust storm

These stories are the perfect close to our main lesson work for each day. Above is her drawing from the story The Merchant and the Genie. The Genie comes out of a dust storm with a scimtar, which is what we were illustrating. Notice the date pits in the lower left corner? These are key to the story.

The Old Man and the Hind

The next story with the evil wife casting spells on the slave and her son, turning them into cattle.

The Man with the Two Black Dogs

The last one for now and my favorite for this week.

I love including our MLB drawings because I think it’s important to know that not all MLBs look like they were illustrated by a professional artist. This is our first year using a focused attempt at using almost entirely Waldorf materials and academic work. These are just a few examples of what our social studies look like this week.

Best wishes.

Categories: 3rd Grade, beeswax modeling, Crayoning, homeschool, social studies, Story, Waldorf | 2 Comments

Rosh Hashana for Gentiles (and Heathens)

Third grade is, in our homeschool, a year for studying Jewish traditions. It’s kind of cool that Rosh Hashana was right at the beginning of our school year and so we opened our 3rd grade year with a small and probably less-than-traditional, Rosh Hashana celebration.

for a sweet year

We had a ‘feast’ of broccoli and chicken tenders with a squeeze of lemon over each. Our challah was actually naan bread which, I am certain, was a cultural fauz pas of epic proportions. We began the meal by blessing the wine and saying a prayer over our food, then we all held hands and offered apologies to one another for whatever it seemed necessary to apologize for. Martina, for example, apologized not only to Mark and I but to herself for keeping some emotionally abusive behavior by one of her sisters from us for a long time. (Nothing epic but damaging nonetheless.) I apologized to Mark for the way I just can’t shut up when I go off on a rant and to Martina for all the times I’ve snapped at her for nothing, really, just because I’m stressed out or in a bad mood.

Once we had cleansed our souls, it was time for the party! Which was pretty low key after all but we ate and drank the blessed wine, which was port so that even Martina could have a few sips. Her excitement over the prospect was quickly dimmed by the taste and she only wet her lips a bit in honor of the occasion. After the meal we shared the apple and honey and wished one another a sweet new year.

Later, we wandered down to the covered bridge behind our house and dropped bread crumbs into the water to symbolize the letting go of our sins from the past year.

So, we started fresh and unburdened, in theory and are looking forward to Yom Kippur soon.

Categories: 3rd Grade, festivals, Waldorf | Leave a comment

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